Saturday, November 3, 2012

How to build your own author platform – from scratch

All you need is a coffin, and a few nails.
The first time I heard the phrase “author platform,” it instantly conjured an image of myself, with a noose around my neck, standing in front of a crowd of people who were waiting for the Big Drop.

I hoped it would be a quick, painless death. So far, it hasn't been. I have spent many a grueling hour trying to build this “platform,” only to discover that I am not heavy enough. Day after day, I am left dangling. Gasping for air.

Those of you who were born prior to the invention of the horseless carriage may not know what an “author platform” is. So, I am going to explain it to you.

An author platform is Newspeak for “fame.” In concrete terms, it means people recognize your name. Perhaps you have won a contest, such as the Nobel Prize. Or maybe you have not sent your kid up in a balloon, or faked a moon landing like those chaps at NASA. People must know who you are in order for you to build a platform.

Nowadays, many agents will insist that you have a platform before they will even consider representing you. This is a catch-22. How can you be a “name” if you have not yet been published?

The fact is that you must start building your platform well in advance of contacting an agent or publishing your book. Achieving a following takes several years. But even if your name is not a household word by the time you publish, you can - and should - set the stage for future fame. 

1. Put up a website. I assume you have already done this. Without a website, YOU DON'T EXIST. Click HERE for tips on how to design an author's website.

2. Write articles and publish them online. There are plenty of online journals and ezines. Basically, you must turn yourself into an expert. Use ALL of your experience for this. Have you had a child? Several? Have you taught them to drive? Did you survive high school? Do you know how to make a smashing cup of tea? Have you recently discovered the cure for cancer? Pick your area of expertise. Everything counts. Read You're an Expert! How to Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles for some great tips on making the most out of your expertise.

3. If you are a fiction writer, you also have the option of publishing short stories. Click HERE to  find a literary magazine that will give your story a home.

4. If you have a book ready for publication, and not even that agent in Zanzibar will answer your query letter, then you may want consider going Indie. But, before you self-publish, you should post excerpts from your forthcoming book. (This is a great marketing strategy.) Many reviewers are willing to post excerpts from forthcoming novels on their blogs. Here is a list of over 400 reviewers who accept self-published books, many of whom are delighted to post excerpts. Most accept traditionally published books as well, and more than a few will be happy to interview you.

5. Do reviews/articles for sites that get a lot of traffic, such as blogcritics. See: Precycling: A Great Way to Get the Most Mileage Out of Your Blogs 

6. Once you have published some articles give talks, in person, and give webinars and/or interviews online. Read Arranging Your Own Book Tour.

7. BLOG!! I cannot stress this enough. Agents who receive your query will google you. If you maintain a blog - on any topic - they will read a few posts. (So make sure you check grammar, spelling, and punctuation.) Readers will also look for your blog. One of the many benefits of a blog is that it allows you to acquire an email list. You may not need that list now, but I guarantee you will need it later when you send out your pre-order announcements. (You need pre-orders for your book.)

Even if you plan to publish your book the old-fashioned way (by either marrying or giving birth to an editor for a major publishing house), you will have to build a platform, so you may as well start now. The sooner you get an online presence, the easier it will be to promote your work.

Related post: Using Alexa to Boost Your Platform


  1. Excellent information here. GOing to is so essential particularly in today's landscape. Working on my book now...Thanks for writing a great article...check out my blog when you get a chance...

  2. Ah. This was the blog post I was about to write but with less self-control! I have done almost everything here recommended, and only this week discovered that I do not exist. I have left no footprints on the internet sand. You, by contrast seem very much to exist and so confidently that you command the attention ( justifiably) of the others like me. I am beginning to wonder whether a platform gets strengthened simply by being there over time? One might squeeze yet another post out of 'how successfully I have failed' 'Ten decisions you should not make' but it rather runs counter to the other advice 'If you want to be successful, you start by pretending you already are' So candid posts rather shoot oneself in the foot, n'est ce pas? Anyway this is a long way to say You done good.

  3. Hello Philippa. Time certainly plays a part in how visible your online footprint is. It took two years for my blog to get noticed. And simply putting up a website, or even writing a blog, is not enough. What I have learned is to take advantage of all the relevant social media - Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ groups, Twitter - and to link them all together. People WANT to share what they find interesting. (When I added colorful social media buttons at the bottom of my blog posts, I saw an immediate increase in traffic.) The other thing is that I don't talk about what I have written. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I prefer to post about my experiences in the publishing world, opportunities that come up for writers, or news items. I enjoy reading about those topics, and it seems so do others. You don't really have to sell yourself - just be yourself. HAVE FUN!

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